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In Iraq: February 17

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It was a rare picture of Saddam Hussein shown on Iraqi television Tuesday. A relaxed and laughing Saddam, meeting with his cabinet ministers, appearing just hours after an announcer read a statement from the Iraqi government, inviting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to come to Baghdad.

The statement said Saddam will make a "serious effort" to insure Annan's visit would be successful provided that the Secretary General came with an "open mind and free will."

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are making it clear they want to negotiate, not accept, an ultimatum.

"Find a solution means talk and listen and make compromises, balanced compromises," said Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister. "That should be the real mission of the Secretary General, not to carry a message. He's not a messenger. He can send whatever he wants by fax."

But the United States says no compromises, just completely free access to the eight presidential sites in dispute. The three-member survey team sent by the Secretary General to map the areas refused to answer questions Tuesday. But the Iraqi News Agency reports the surveyors have finished seven sites already.

From Greece, the Russian Foreign Minister said Iraq is ready to open all sites to weapons inspectors, but the smiling Saddam seen on television gave no indication whether that's true.

The Iraqi statements made no mention of any specific deals that have been worked out, but the language and the timing of the statements amount to an invitation that Kofi Annan can hardly refuse.

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